Subject: Washington takes a new look at Jakarta under Obama: Envoy
*Washington takes new look at Jakarta under Obama: Envoy*
*Ary Hermawan* , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Thu, 07/02/2009 1:34 PM | World
The historic election of US President Barack Obama has marked a new era in Indonesia-United States relations, however one cannot overlook the fact that relations had improved - although not dramatically - before the first US black president walked into the White House.
"I think, to be fair with president Bush, you had this moderate improvement on a steady pace while president Bush was in office," US Ambassador to Indonesia Cameron R. Hume told The Jakarta Post at his office on Tuesday.
According to Hume, the US expanded cooperation in the security sector by making more opportunities available for military training programs for Indonesia's security personnel. "The amount of money we put into that about doubled in the last two years," Hume said.
The US Pacific Command (PACOM) also recently sponsored joint training for UN peacekeeping forces, hosted by the Indonesian military, in Bandung. The militarily-advanced US, which lifted its embargo on Indonesia in 2005, has also helped the country with the installation of radars in the Malacca Strait.
"It's a gradual improvement, but I wouldn't say there's anything dramatic," he said. But has there been a shift since Obama took office?
The first change in US foreign policy toward Indonesia under the Obama administration was a "new look" at what had already been achieved, Hume said. "They say: *Oh, so much has changed. What can we do now?'"
"So, that's why you have a new agenda with an added emphasis on education, the environment, health and I think work in these key areas will build on what we're already achieved."
Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington last month to discuss a comprehensive partnership agreement that was called for during the latter's visit to Jakarta in February.
The Indonesian Foreign Ministry's director general for America and Europe, Retno L.P. Marsudi, said the two parties had agreed that the partnership must focus on three main issues: political-security, trade and social welfare. The agreement, she added, would also mandate the creation of a bilateral consultation forum.
Retno said the partnership would strengthen ongoing negotiations on a number of issues such as education and security, adding that it would also reflect a convergence of views of both countries at a high political level. However, the current strong relations are not without challenges.
US-based rights groups such as the East Timor Action Network and Human Rights Watch have persistently criticized Indonesia for its failure to bring alleged rights abuses in Papua to an end. Congressman Eni Faleomavaega was quoted by the media as saying the US House of Representatives will not forget the Papua issue, although he had driven the move to scrap the Papua provision from the US foreign relations bill.
"I am aware of some of these *allegations*," Hume said. "The embassy makes great efforts to keep in touch with Indonesian human rights activists and with the Indonesian government, and to follow events. And I think to some extent we don't share the views with some of these reports."
He further explained that the embassy felt obliged "to look at the whole reality... not simply one event one day or one place.this is a huge country with many events in many places in any day. "Some of the specific allegations they have made we are not able to confirm," Hume said.
Another issue is the US' new anti-smoking legislation, banning imports of kretek (clove containing cigarettes) from Indonesia. The Trade Ministry protested against the bill before it was passed into law last month, saying it violated WTO rules. "We are aware of Indonesia's concerns, and remain committed to sound public health policies consistent with our international obligations," the embassy said.
When asked about the growing pro-protectionism sentiment during Indonesia's elections, Hume said the United States hopes Indonesia will keep its economy open to the global economy and avoid risking losing great opportunities which were responsible for its current position as one of strongest economies in facing the global economic downturn.
Trade between the US and Indonesia has grown remarkably over the past five years. Last year, for the first time, US-Indonesia trade surpassed the US$20 billion mark, an increase of 28 percent from $16.40 billion in 2007 (see graphic). Currently, the US is Indonesia's fourth biggest trading partner after Japan, Singapore and China.
As concerted efforts needed to tackle climate change and pandemic threats, Indonesia and the US could also cooperate to find ways to get out the global economic downturn, Hume said.
Indonesia was rebuilding itself with democracy, he said. "I really do think, personally, it is remarkable the extent to which your country *has developed*. In ten years you not only have opened up a vibrant media and an open political process, but have been able to do that and it has helped your stability."
"You've not only gone in democratic direction; you make it work for you and that's good - and that's a victory for every individual in Indonesia."